Tech Universe: Monday 25 February

By Miraz Jordan

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

FULL TIME HANDYMAN: Soon one man in Rome will receive a prosthetic hand.

That's not so rare these days, but his new hand is different: it'll be connected directly to nerves in his arm so he can both control it and receive touch signals from its skin sensors. All the fingertips, the palm and the wrist will send sensations into his nervous system. Only experience will show whether he can wear his new hand full time or will need to remove it for a rest. The sensitivity will need to be carefully tuned too.

FLIPPER FLAP: In Japan there's at least one lucky Loggerhead Turtle. 25 year old Yu lost her front legs during a shark attack, but that doesn't stop her swimming: now she wears rubber flippers attached to a vest. Workers at the Suma Aqualife Park, where Yu lives, have developed various versions of the prosthetics over the last 4 years, but using the vest seems to be the most successful.

Kindness to animals is one of the best traits in humans.

CHIPPING AWAY AT IMAGES: Your smartphone photos aren't necessarily very smart, and improving them in software can suck up both battery and time. A chip developed by MIT is designed to improve photos in hardware, making the process both quicker and less energy intensive. For example, the chip could handle creating a high dynamic range photo by blending 3 exposures. Where software might take several seconds to perform the processing, the new chip could do it in a few hundred milliseconds. A working prototype of the chip already exists, but now the challenge is to get it into gadgets. More, bigger, better photos — of course we want it.

SOAKING IN IT: Coal-fired power stations create a lot of carbon dioxide that is expensive and energy intensive to capture. Current methods use liquid capture materials that are then heated. A new material may make things easier and cheaper though. It's a photosensitive metal organic framework that soaks up lots of CO2. A single gram of the material has a huge internal surface area — as big as a football field. Once the material has soaked up as much CO2 as it can hold it can be exposed to sunlight to release the gas. You have to wonder what other gases are produced that aren't being captured.

PHOTON LOCK: Electricity grids are becoming more complex, as more sources of energy start contributing. That means that control messages must be sent around to ensure a smooth supply. But those messages must be both trustworthy and delivered without delays, and also secured from people with bad intent. The key to achieving this may be quantum cryptography which uses single photons to produce secure random numbers between users. The random numbers are then used for authentication and encryption. Demonstrations have shown that this technique can work quickly and effectively, and can be scaled up as needed. It's all handled by a small device known as a QKarD. This is where light controls electricity, rather than the other way round.

Miraz Jordan, knowit.co.nz

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